House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer addressed the AIPAC Political Leadership Conference on December 15, 2003 (as prepared for delivery):
From my perspective as the Democratic Whip, I believe that AIPAC and all the friends of Israel can look back at the past year as one of many successes.
In April, Roy Blunt and I circulated a letter signed by 313 House Members urging President Bush to abide by the principles for Mideast peace that he articulated on June 24th, 2002.
First and foremost among them was this absolute precondition for peace: that the Palestinian side unconditionally cease the campaign of terror and violence against Israel.
In June, the House passed a resolution by a vote of 399 to 5 condemning the unconscionable terrorist attacks against Israel and expressing our solidarity with Israelis in the continuing war on terrorism.
In October, the house passed the Syria accountability and Lebanese Sovereignty Restoration Act by a vote of 398 to 4.
That legislation would require the president to impose economic and diplomatic penalties on Syria unless it makes immediate and meaningful changes in its policies.
And it sends an unequivocal message to Damascus: you cannot belong to the family of civilized nations while simultaneously sponsoring and providing safe harbor to terrorist organizations.
On October 30th, the House unanimously passed a resolution repudiating the repugnant anti-Semitic remarks by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohammad at the Islamic Summit Conference.
Comments such as these – that “the Jews rule the world by proxy” – are not simply hateful and outrageous, they are divisive and dangerous.
Jew and non-Jew alike must combat them.
And, of course, we also saw the fall of the butcher of Baghdad – Saddam Hussein – who was a mortal threat to his own people, the state of Israel, the middle east region and the world.
And, as you know, I had the privilege of leading the largest congressional delegation in history to Israel in August.
This was my sixth trip to Israel, and my fifth as a member of Congress.
But for many of the 28 other Democrats in our delegation, this was the first time they had been there.
More than one-third of the members are serving their first term in Congress. Nearly one-third are women. And our delegation included four African-Americans, a Hispanic and a Pacific-Islander.
Yes, we made this long journey to see the security challenges and realities confronting our one true friend in the Middle East.
But we also traveled there to express our solidarity with Israel’s cause – freedom and democracy – as well as her determination to survive and succeed as a sanctuary for the Jewish people.
As President Kennedy recognized 43 years ago: “we will never turn our back on our steadfast friends in Israel, whose adherence to the democratic way must be admired by all friends of democracy.”
During our week-long visit, we met with Prime Minister Sharon and members of his cabinet, Labor Party Chairman Peres, Speaker Rivlin and other members of the Knesset.
We also met with representatives of the academic, religious, press and medical communities. And we traveled to Gaza to meet with former Palestinian Prime Minister Abbas, who most in Israel agreed is a man who sought peace and could be an honest interlocutor, but who was undercut at every turn by Arafat and other purveyors of hate and terrorism on the Palestinian side.
Let me say very clearly: as a member of the Democratic leadership and a long-time supporter of Israel, it is absolutely imperative that Members of Congress – especially our new members and those who have few Jews in their Congressional Districts – recognize the moral and strategic significance of the U.S.-Israel partnership.
Furthermore, it is imperative that Israel’s circle of friends in Congress include non-Jews, too. For the reality is this: Israel’s safety and security is not a Jewish/non-Jewish issue. It is an American national security issue.
I am confident in saying that two new Democratic members who have a better appreciation of that are Denise Majette of Georgia and Artur Davis of Alabama. Both were part of our delegation. Both are articulate, engaging African-Americans from the south. And both are committed supporters of Israel.
At the end of our trip, we developed a strong consensus around at least three crucial issues. First, Israel’s security is an absolute precondition for peace. The security fence, which has engendered great controversy, was viewed as a reasonable and acceptable attempt to reduce terrorist attacks. Events since our trip have not altered that view.
Second, the dismantlement of the Palestinian terrorist organizations is essential if security is to be obtained.
And third, we cannot ignore morally, politically, intellectually the plight of the Palestinian people. Their cause has been undermined by their own leaders and by the tactics of terror, the incitement to hate and violence, and the refusal to seek peace.
Now, despite our progress in 2003, it goes without saying that the United States and Israel face tremendous challenges ahead. Let me briefly mention three of them.
We must secure the peace in Iraq. Yesterday’s very good news of the capture of Saddam Hussein will hopefully facilitate that goal and send another very strong message that terrorism and genocide must be opposed by all peace-loving nations and its perpetrators must be held accountable.
We need to win this peace, and we need to put a truly international face on this occupation and reconstruction effort.
Secondly, I am very disturbed by the surge in virulent anti-Semitism, and the accompanying hostility toward the Jewish state. Anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are two manifestations of the same bigotry.
It’s not just the comments of the Malaysian Prime Minister, who received a standing ovation. It’s the documented rise in anti-Semitism in Europe and elsewhere, where, according to writer Daniel Goldhagen, “Rambo Jew has largely supplanted Shylock in the anti-Semitic imagination.”
As the citizens of the strongest and freest nation on earth, we have a moral responsibility to combat intolerance and prejudice based on religion, ethnicity or race wherever it rears its head.
Finally, I know much has been made of the privately negotiated Geneva Accords, which will continue to be talked about in the days ahead.
Allow me to say this: no action like this, no matter how well intentioned, can ever supplant the decisions of the duly-elected leaders of the state of Israel and the responsible representatives of the Palestinian side – which of course, by definition, excludes Arafat.
And there can be no compromise on President Bush’s demand that terrorism and terrorists must be rejected and that the last instruments of terror must be dismantled if there is to be progress toward peace.
Today, the U.S.-Israel relationship, based as it is on our shared moral, cultural and political values, is as strong as it has ever been.
There are some who believe that we must demonstrate more even-handedness in the Israeli-Palestinian crisis.
I do not.
Instead, I believe we must guard against making muddled parallelisms between justified actions by Israel and terrorist tactics designed only to inflame and destroy.
Twenty-four years ago, the late Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson of Washington delivered a speech in Jerusalem that was so prescient it would be timely if delivered today or tomorrow. He said: “I believe that international terrorism is a modern form of warfare against liberal Democracies.”
He added, “I believe that the ultimate but seldom stated goal of these terrorists is to destroy the very fabric of democracy. I believe that it is both wrong and foolhardy for any democratic state to consider international terrorism to be ‘someone else’s’ problem.”
The United States and Israel have stood together since 1948 because we stand up for what is right – liberty, freedom, and democracy.
Let’s recognize that, together, we are swimming with the tide of history. And together, we will reach our destination.